Taking a walk down freedom lane

Franky van Reenen with his framed United Democratic Front (UDF) T-shirt.

Tafelsig activist Franky van Reenen feels grateful and blessed to be able to mark Freedom Day tomorrow, Thursday April 27.

Looking at old photographs of campaigns and marches during the dark days of apartheid, Mr Van Reenen recalled April 27 in 1994 when black South Africans over 18 could vote for the very first time.

“April 27 in 1994 was one of the best days of my life, a historical and special day. I am thankful to everyone who contributed during the struggle.”

Mr Van Reenen, 44, who attended Tafelsig High School from 1985, was active in the fight against apartheid’s oppression.

As thousands of people across the country marched and held meetings, Mr Van Reenen got involved in the struggle in his own community.

He had a keen interest in politics and was concerned about apartheid and what it was doing to people.

“Apartheid was horrible, people were oppressed and discriminated because of the colour of their skin,” he said.

As a teen in 1987, he joined the Cape Youth Congress in Mitchell’s Plain and the Student Representative Council at Tafelsig school.

There he was taught about politics and got some insight about the situation in South Africa.

“I learnt a lot while being in the Cape Youth Congress, and I was determined to contribute to change, because I could see what apartheid did to our people,” he said.

Mr Van Reenen, who is now a parts manager at a car dealership, said while other teens his age went to parties, he chose to attend workshops.

“There we learnt about the struggle, what to do and what not to do and about various cultures. Lessons that I will always remember is to respect yourself and your neighbour,” he said.

Mr Van Reenen said in 1989, the Cape Youth Congress was disbanded and then the South African Youth Congress was launched at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) at what was then known as PenTech.

Mr Van Reenen said he recalls mobilising students at schools to march.

“I remember we had a meeting at Cedar High School in Rocklands and while we were discussing plans, (police) stormed in disrupting the meeting and surrounding the school.

“It was scary, I almost went to jail that day. Our comrades were arrested that day and it was terrible to see how the police treated us.

“I also remember one of the people telling me that the police were looking for me, and I had to give people a false name and call myself John,” he said.

Mr Van Reenen said it was a difficult time for many and thanked his mentors William and Leon Swartz.

“My comrades at the ANC as well as William and Leon, always gave me good advice. I am proud to be a South African and will always remember Freedom Day, the day I voted. What a day that was, there is no word to describe it, so I will say it was ‘unexplainable’.

“To our youth, make use of the opportunities you have these days. Educate yourself and most importantly, better yourself,” he said.